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Hepatitis C and Fibromyalgia: The Possible Link

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Learn about the potential connection between Hepatitis C and fibromyalgia, and find out why it is possible that Hepatitis C infection may act as a trigger for fibromyalgia syndrome. If you suspect having both conditions, awareness of this link can lead you to seek the expert evaluation and care that may help reduce your symptoms of pain and fatigue.

Due to overwhelming empirical evidence, some medical circles believe that the symptoms and presenting patterns shared between Hepatitis C and fibromyalgia are beyond coincidental. While Hepatitis C is known to be transmitted through infected blood, authorities are still debating how fibromyalgia is acquired. Due to similarities in manifestation and physiology, there is a possibility that Hepatitis C infection may be one of fibromyalgia syndrome’s triggers. If you suspect having both conditions, awareness of this link can lead you to seek the specialized evaluation and care that may improve your most frustrating symptoms.

Prevalence

Estimates of disease prevalence in the United States approximate the number of people living with fibromyalgia to be around 6 million people, while the number of people known to be living with Hepatitis C hovers just above 4 million. While accurate statistics of the number of people affected by both diagnoses are not currently available, a surprising number of people dually diagnosed with Hepatitis C and fibromyalgia are emerging. However, one study did find the prevalence of fibromyalgia in people with Hepatitis C (15 to 19 percent) to be much higher than the occurrence of fibromyalgia in the general American population (2 percent).

Fibromyalgia

Fibromyalgia is a syndrome causing widespread muscle pain, extreme fatigue and multiple tender points in specific parts of the body. With pain characterized as aching, burning, stabbing and throbbing, its severity can vary widely. While fibromyalgia is a chronic condition, it is not a progressive disease. However, this condition can greatly reduce the quality of life of those affected.

Experts do not agree on what causes fibromyalgia. When trying to determine the etiology of this complex syndrome, it is challenging to discern between cause and effect. The endless cycle of pain, inactivity, insomnia, fatigue and depression typical of fibromyalgia complicates the isolation needed to trace this syndrome’s origins. Although researchers have identified several possible reasons for fibromyalgia, it remains unclear if they are a cause, or part of the problem. Some of the leading contenders for what triggers fibromyalgia include:

  • Hormone Imbalance
  • Infectious Disease
  • Immune System Malfunction
  • Sleep Disorder
  • Traumatic Event
  • Muscle Abnormality

The Hepatitis C Connection

Although not yet confirmed, many experts believe that Hepatitis C may act as a trigger to the onset of fibromyalgia. The documented links between the two conditions include:

  • Symptom Specificity – Fibromyalgia and chronic Hepatitis C infection share many clinical features including musculoskeletal pain and fatigue. While the two conditions do not always accompany each other, some symptoms may be unique when a person has both fibromyalgia and Hepatitis C. One study found that people dually diagnosed with fibromyalgia and Hepatitis C exhibit symptoms such as inflammation around a joint, bursa and/or tendon, and vasculitis (blood or lymph vessel inflammation) that are not seen in Hepatitis C negative people with fibromyalgia.
  • Immune Proteins – Cytokines are proteins that regulate immune response. Interleukins are a specific type of cytokine that cause a person to feel pain. Several interleukins have been found to be dramatically elevated in fibromyalgia patients. Harvard researchers found those same interleukins increased in production when exposed to the Hepatitis C virus.
  • Hepatitis C and Pain – Many people infected with Hepatitis C virus infection complain of myalgias, arthritis and widespread pain. When compared to other liver diseases, the frequency of musculoskeletal pain clearly favors Hepatitis C. The frequencies of musculoskeletal pain for the following isolated conditions are as follows: Alcoholic liver disease = 48 percent, Hepatitis B = 59 percent and Hepatitis C = 91 percent. As fibromyalgia’s most prominent symptom, it is not surprising that musculoskeletal pain may represent the link to Hepatitis C.

Infectious Cause

Certain infections, notably viruses, often occur in the histories of people with fibromyalgia. As these infectious organisms invade the body, scientists think they may cause damage at a cellular level. While fibromyalgia is considered to be non-contagious, it is possible that it may be a manifestation of a viral disease such as Hepatitis C, which is contagious. While many infectious microorganisms have been tied to fibromyalgia, the link with Hepatitis C is becoming increasingly suspect. At this point, there is sufficient evidence linking infectious diseases and fibromyalgia together, but it is unknown if any of these microorganisms are fibromyalgia’s origin, a simultaneous condition or a result.

Why it Is Important

A high prevalence of fibromyalgia has been found in patients infected with Hepatitis C, especially women. According to Israeli researchers, recognizing fibromyalgia in people with Hepatitis C will prevent misinterpretation of fibromyalgia symptoms as part of the liver disease and enable physicians to correctly focus on alleviating these symptoms.

A doctor well versed in fibromyalgia should be consulted if this syndrome is suspected. Because its diagnosis is not simple and symptoms often overlap with other conditions, a proper evaluation will test for fibromyalgia while ruling out other diseases. Doctors who are familiar with fibromyalgia typically make a diagnosis based on criteria established by the American College of Rheumatology (ACR). Those criteria are:

  1. Widespread pain (right and left side body pain, above and below the waist) that lasts for more than 3 months.
  2. Eleven or more tender points present at 18 specific sites on the body.

Whenever there is a profound crossover in a disease’s symptoms, we can learn from their parallels. Although many questions shroud the connection between fibromyalgia and Hepatitis C, their relationship exists in many people with either condition. With their comparable symptoms, similar immune biochemistry and irrefutable statistics of simultaneous presentation, exposure to the Hepatitis C virus may be one of fibromyalgia’s triggers.

Understanding this connection may prompt a person with fibromyalgia to get tested for Hepatitis C or it may help a person with Hepatitis C seek evaluation for fibromyalgia. If you think you might be burdened with both conditions, discuss your thoughts with your primary healthcare provider. By taking this proactive stance, you may open yourself up to new ways of reducing Hepatitis C’s challenging symptoms of pain and fatigue.

References:

www.archinte.ama-assn.org, Fibromyalgia in hepatitis C virus infection. Another infectious disease relationship, Buskila D., et al, Archives of Internal Medicine, November 1997.

www.cdc.gov, Viral Hepatitis C Fact Sheet, US Department of Health and Human Services, 2007.

www.hcvadvocate.org, Extrahepatic Manifestations: Hepatitis C and Fibromyalgia, Alan Franciscus, HCV Advocate, July 2006, Hepatitis C Support Project, 2007.

www.ihop-net.org, Fibromyalgia, hepatitis C infection and the Cytokine connection, Thompson ME, Barkhuizen A, Current Pain and Headache Reports, 2003.

www.medscape.com, Fibromyalgia Pain: Do We Know the Source?, Roland Staud, Current Opinion In Rheumatology, April 2004.

www.rheumatology-oxfordjournals.org, Fibromyalgia-associated hepatitis C virus infection, Rivera J, et al., The British Journal of Rheumatology, 1997.

www.vir.sgmjournals.org, Structural proteins of Hepatitis C virus induce interleukin 8 production and apoptosis in human endothelial cells, Anuradha Balasubramanian,, et al., Journal of General Virology, 2005.

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